It took a children’s cartoon to teach me the meaning of Advent. I’ve long since forgotten the title, but I vividly recall the character lost in the city at Christmastime. Lights were everywhere. The hustle and bustle of everyday life caused a turmoil that terrified the little mouse or whatever the character was. As a child I recoiled at the blare of light and sound. For some reason, the images of the noise resonated with me at a young age and remain with me today. We live in an era of flashing lights and hurry. The blare is still there, we have just stopped noticing it. We have drowned out the noise and ignore the affects. We don’t see the race we are in until, for many of us, it is too late and the stress has taken its toll. Our kids are so busy today that mom has to keep the family organized with calendars and notes. We have all but forgotten the beauty of silence. Just when I feel I have lost the “simple” again the Church gives us the “simple” back during our season of Advent.
Advent is supposed to be a time to stop our normal routine and change direction. We turn from participation in life’s toils to anticipation of Jesus toiling in our life. He is not only coming to us at the Incarnation but into our daily lives as well. I have gone from cringing at stores starting Christmas at Thanksgiving to being happy if they have simply waited that long to bring out the wrapping. Our Christmas season begins not with the Advent wreath but with Black Friday crowds and shopping for “deals.” We have given into technology and now technology and the pace required keeping up with it runs our lives.
In our love of technology we are losing our sense of self. In our society, today’s challenge is that technology isn’t leaving us. It is so much a part of us we can’t imagine a life without it. Cell phones are no longer turned off at the dinner table. Couples text to others while on dates when they should be focused on each other. I applaud parents who risk scandal by forcing cell phones to be off during family events and social gatherings. Companies these days have to tell employees to turn off cell phones and laptops during meetings so employees keep their focus. Wise churches remind parishioners to silence their cell phones before mass. Silence? Turn them off at church!!
We cannot let technology harden our hearts. We cannot let its hum lull us to a zombie-like state. Pope Francis told the worlds youth to “Wake up!” We think this is just a lesson for Millennials but it is really a task for all of us. Close Facebook and pick up a phone before the damage cannot be undone.
Millennials see technology as an everyday norm and culture. While earlier generations have grown to rely increasingly on technology, the millennial generation and those that follow are constantly inundated by it. The iPhone, computers, play stations and Wii fit, all of which aim to improve and enhance life ultimately take us away from living it. Even worse, technology has taken away our notion of the end of it. I once told my teenage daughter that it was not uncommon only a generation ago for people to not only die at home but to have their wakes there as well. My daughter’s response was “EW!” Death for her is something to keep at arm’s length, and even further if possible. Death is seen as something we manage or control. Society tells Millennials like my daughters that death is mostly for the weak and death is for the old who no longer contribute. Because we have institutionalized death, death is hidden. Our Millennials mostly experiences death solely on television or with the death of grandparents. If the technology that is so vital to their everyday life cannot solve life’s problem, why go on? Today, pain is to be avoided at all costs in a culture that strives for everyone to be happy. Hence, the door is opening to physician-assisted suicide. Is technology leading to physician-assisted suicide? No, not keeping technology in its proper perspective is our culprit.
How do we move Millennials away from the secular notion of death to a Catholic notion of journey we want them to have? First, it is not by arguing theological positions with them when they are bombarded by secular opinions at every turn. Instead of targeting their heads, we must appeal to their hearts. A new tact is needed. Be the witness of faith they need. Show without the tell. We need to soften these hearts again. We need to open these hearts to a relationship with Jesus. When a relationship with Christ is ignited, the theology follows as the bond develops. Such change can begin this Advent.
To those who live and breathe smart phone technology the notion of a time of “expectant waiting and preparation” for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas may seem like torture. It is to the addict. We don’t live in a world of waiting. Yet, when we can turn off the noise and our pace slows down we can again hear how out of breath we are. We need to slow down and focus on the peace of the manger. Find a room lit only with Christmas lights and let silence envelop the room. Imagine the star of Bethlehem overhead. Let the memories flow and walk slowly on your journey to the manger. Say a quiet prayer and listen for God to respond. It takes work to find peace in the silence. It takes patience to listen rather than speak. Yet, when we open ourselves to the preparation of Advent, our work becomes true joy.
In these last weeks of Advent, try something new. Do nothing. Simply listen to the joyous noel.